Breaking the stigma: New donation supports mental health of GGH staff

The Foundation of the Guelph General Hospital is thrilled to announce a generous gift of $150,000 from long time donors Bill and Colleen Koornstra to establish The Bill and Colleen Koornstra Health and Wellness Fund. This Fund is designed to support programming and activities that promote, support or advance the mental health and wellbeing of the hospital’s staff.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Bill and Colleen Koornstra were very aware, like many people, that overall mental health suffered for many of us, and that included nurses, physicians and other staff at hospitals who were putting their lives at risk for the greater good. The Koornstras have been encouraged by more recent efforts to reduce the stigma around mental health in general, but feel that there is still more to be done particularly when it comes to caregivers themselves who may be less inclined to seek support.

While normally quite private in their giving, Bill and Colleen Koornstra know that by making their contribution public, they will help encourage open dialogue about mental health as well as to shed light on the special challenges that healthcare professionals have faced during and after the pandemic. “There are unique pressures and challenges that nurses, physicians and staff at Guelph General Hospital face. Recognizing that, we wanted to create a fund that helped to remove stigma for healthcare workers to ask for help and to provide programs that benefited GGH staff.” With the creation of this new fund, which is intended to be spent down over three years, the Koornstras envision helping GGH to foster a culture of openness around mental health and its importance at the hospital. Specifically, the funds will be used to support programs or wellness services.

Two of the early initiatives made possible through the new Bill and Colleen Koornstra Health and Wellness Fund supported staff chair massage days and Mission Nutrition. Chair Massage days provide staff on-site 15 minute mini-break massages. The popular program was fully booked quickly once announced. Mission Nutrition is a weekly initiative to provide subsidized healthy meals for staff to encourage self-care and taking time to re-fuel and re-charge before returning to a shift.

Karen Suk-Patrick, Vice President of People, Culture and Community remarked: “This donation has come at an important time for our hard working team at Guelph General Hospital, and aligns so well with our aim to invest in our team. As a first step, we are listening to what supports our staff and physicians would like to see, and that was primarily on-site options for low cost, nutritious meals and the physical and stress relief that brief, on-site chair massage provides. We will be rolling out additional programs to promote staff well-being thanks to the Koornstra’s support in the coming months.

Julie Byczynski, CEO of The Foundation of Guelph General Hospital, said, “There are many challenges facing hospitals today, including keeping pace with our growing and aging Guelph community. We are very fortunate to have donors like Bill and Colleen in our community who want to have an impact on the wellness of healthcare providers and who are willing to step outside the norm. This donation is the first of its kind for the community. It helps our hospital invest in its most precious resource, the staff and physicians of GGH.”